One of the things that’s coming up more often in the therapy room these days is anxiety over the political climate. Patients who are uber political and apolitical alike are finding it nearly impossible to avoid getting swept into the current that is the 24-hour news cycle.
Before the advent of social media and smart phones, it was possible to miss out on current events simply by not reading the newspaper or watching the news on television. We don’t have that luxury these days.
Whether you’re on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram, someone in your social media network will share their political opinions. It almost makes you long for the days when all we had to complain about was the incessant food pictures!
With the separation provided by a computer screen, things we would avoid discussing in-person are fair game for posting on the internet. It's hard to believe how we treat each other in the comments of these posts, especially knowing we will see each other in person at some point. Moms who may have only paid attention to politics during presidential election years are now experiencing strained relationships over differing political opinions.
And with the Supreme Court shifting to the right ideologically, many parents are struggling with the question of what type of country their children will grow up in. There is so much uncertainty over the future of reproductive rights, privacy, and gun control that it’s no wonder my patients are noticing an increase in anxiety.
Sometimes people don’t even recognize the effects of stress and anxiety because it can show up as anger, irritability, disrupted sleep, headaches, muscle tension, or an upset stomach. Relationship conflicts may seem to pop up out of nowhere. Left untreated, this chronic stress can lead to a weakened immune system, higher rates of obesity, and even increased risk of death.
The good news is there are ways to help combat this political stress.
1. Unplug – Giving yourself a digital holiday won’t make the outside world disappear, but chances are you will enjoy your day a little more without getting caught up in the latest and greatest scandal that disappears after a single news cycle. Use the time you would be surfing social media to work on other projects you’ve been neglecting or just to enjoy quality time with your family.
2. Live your values – Taking a few minutes to identify the things that are important to you can help you make the most of your time on the planet. Knowing that you value volunteering with your kids more than watching television can help you be more intentional about how you spend your time. Think about what qualities you want your kids to see you represent in the various aspects of life (e.g., work, family/relationships, leisure, personal growth/health).
3. Be mindful – Rather than letting your mind get caught up in the political worries, focus on what’s right in front of you. Treat a conversation with your partner or child like it’s the only thing that exists in that moment. Notice the beautiful world around you with the curiosity of a young child seeing things for the first time. This focus on the present moment (aka being mindful), can help prevent you from getting dragged into the downward spiral of negative thinking.
4. Get involved – Some of the anxiety over the political climate is caused by feeling a loss of control or self-efficacy. By finding an organization or cause you believe in and taking action, you can regain a semblance of control. Feeling like you are making a small difference rather than just a helpless observer is a key component to well-being.
I know it may seem hopeless when you are constantly bombarded by political extremism, but the truth is that by taking a few small steps you can fight back against the stress and anxiety. As Stephen Covey once said, “I am not a product of my circumstances. I am a product of my decisions.” Your choices in reacting to the stressful climate can make this a time of personal growth and empowerment.
Dr. Kevin Hyde, Psy.D. is a licensed clinical psychologist with a private practice in Palm Harbor, Florida. He specializes in helping overwhelmed moms struggling with stress and anxiety to bring a little peace to a chaotic world. You can follow him on Facebook or Twitter.